Ellen’s CRPS story
My name is Ellen Williams and I have had CRPS for 5 years. My CRPS story began 6 months after I had an arthroscopy on my left knee after a sporting injury. Being told I was suffering from an incurable disorder, which is also invisible to everyone apart from me, was a rather daunting prospect at the age of 15. For the first 2 years I was told that I had a good chance of it disappearing, as I was young and fit enough to “fight” it like it was some sort of infection.
18 months of intensive physiotherapy, on a weekly basis helped to a certain extent but not enough to click my brain back. When the physical physiotherapy stopped working, I began asking questions. My doctor was the one to give me the news I did not want, telling me that now it was unlikely to go for a long time, if ever. As a 17 year old, hoping to go to university, beginning to think of what the future it felt like nothing mattered anymore because I was never going to be able to live the “normal” future I had been planning since I was 10. Needless to say this was the first time I had got very depressed during my battle with CRPS.
However, this is when I began to see Richmond. He gave me and my family the answers we needed but had never been given before, that yes I may have to live with this disorder for the rest of my life but that does not mean that life cannot be as good as it was always going to be. Learning to manage my disorder has had its difficulties along the way however every bad moment was worth it when I look back at how much I have managed to achieve since the first time I saw Richmond.
My family has been there the whole time, through the tears, pain and happier times however I have always wondered about how hard it is for them. I struggle to see my mum unwell so I cannot imagine how she feels having to see me in agony and knowing there is nothing she can do to stop it. The one piece of information I would give to anyone with CRPS is that it is not just the person who suffers, so if you cannot try for yourself, maybe try for the ones who love you.
Needless to say I am now 6 months away from finishing my degree and am doing what I love on a daily basis. I am happy. I never thought I would be able to say that 3 years ago and that does not mean I do not have bad days, some worse than others however my daily life is happy and is “normal” for me.
And then…in 2017
This year the UP running team has Ellen taking part in the Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon raising awareness and money for Understand Pain and CRPS UK. Ellen has CRPS yet has made remarkable progress in her life. I was thrilled when she agreed to take part and join the #UPandrun team!
Here is Ellen’s first blog about training.
Running Blog Part 1
Bio About Myself
Hello Reader! My name is Ellen Williams and this blog is about showing people my ordinary life. I have never been good at writing about myself so I will just start with some key facts:
Name: Ellen Jade Williams
- Age: 22
- Hair Colour: Blonde
- Eye Colour: Green (with flecks of yellow in the middle)
- Favourite Food: Strawberries
- Favourite Animal: HORSES
- Hobbies: Horse Riding (although having your own horses makes it more of a lifestyle than a hobby)
- Occupation: Yard Manager (my own yard), Yard hand, Office Workers (for my parents business)
- 3 Qualities: shy, smiley & sensitive
- Any unusual points: I have CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) in the left side of my lower body.
My CRPS story is long and I do not want to bore you so again I shall give you the key facts. In April 2010 I went to South Africa with my school for a Sports Tour. It was the best holiday of my life but unfortunately I came home injured after some swelling appeared during one of my matches. I was told it was just some soft tissue bruising so I had a few weeks off then I carried on. The pain got worse and by the end of June I’d lost mobility in my left knee.
Finally I went to see a consultant who had me booked in for surgery 3 days later. I had a routine arthroscopy in my left knee, which found a piece of bone stuck in my knee joint which had also damaged some of the cartilage. That was sorted and I began to heal, just a little slower than normal.
By the December, I had deteriorated drastically and was back on crutches unable to do physio. January and February 2011 was full of pain, doctor appointments across the South of England, scans and uncertainty. 3rd March 2011, my consultant told my parents and I that I had this neurological disorder, which was incurable and may stay with me for the rest of my life. Confusion and sadness do not even begin to describe the feeling of that day.
I did physical physio for about two years to try and “flip the switch back”, as people describe it. This got me so far but it began to inhibit me more that it was helping me so I had to stop. After getting through my A levels and receiving more disappointing news from doctors, that there was nothing else they could do, my mum realised that I needed something else, something different! Which is where Richmond steps in. I have been seeing Richmond for over 4 years now and I could never write down in words how much I’ve learnt and improved in that time.
In the last 18 months I have finished university, moved back home and started full time work, which took its toll. After having it confirmed that the CRPS had spread into my left ankle I had back injections in January of this year. These once again, completely changed my life and as cliché as it sounds I feel like I have been given a second chance and I am determined not to waste this time as we are not sure how long it will last.
So when Richmond asked me if I would run the Royal Parks Half Marathon, I thought why not. It may not be easy but one quality I possess is determination. Determination to prove others wrong but also to prove to myself that I am “normal” but in my own way! Both my Dad and I are running jointly for UP and CRPS UK, which are two very important organisations for me so I hope this will show people that everyone has demons but how good your life is depends on how you decide to live your life. Please donate and spread the word of CRPS!
30th July 2017
After having some time off due to weather, birthday celebrations and pain I suddenly felt in the mood for a run, even after 6 hours of poo picking fields and mucking out stables! Although I was in the mood for a run, that does not mean I was not also nervous. I hadn’t been out for about a month and suffering such a big flare up the weekend before was always going to add more nerves.
A lot of my other runs I have put a point where I would turn around however today I didn’t. The issue with my disorder is that, people think I’m joking when I say “It has a mind of its own” but I’m really not! My CRPS and I may share a brain but we definitely do not think the same so I know I may think “I’ll aim for this point but will try to push further” but my CRPS will think “Right you said your going to that point, so I will give you pain if you go past it”. This is why today I decided to just run, whether I made it 1 mile or 10 miles it didn’t matter as long as I enjoyed the run.
After the first 10 minutes of agony (which always happens, like the CRPS is trying its hardest to stop me) I settled into my normal running beat and through the deep breathing, even managed to put a smile onto my bright red face!
31st July 2017
I felt so good about my run yesterday until I got out of bed this morning and realised that my hamstrings were as tight as a brand new elastic band! What made the pain worse was knowing that I was going to see the personal trainer tonight and that when I told him, he would make me stretch them out properly, which is more painful than just walking! This is the fourth time I’ve seen the personal trainer but it is already starting to make me enjoy being in a gym again.
After my diagnosis, I was told my best chance of “defeating” the CRPS was to do physical physio to break the on going loop that was theoretically happening in my head. I will always be grateful for my 18 months of physical physio because without
it I doubt I would be able to walk without pain, most days, right now however I should never have been told this method would “defeat” the CRPS. Living with CRPS is complicated and confusing as one minute you will look completely healthy but the next you can be on the floor unable to move but that does not mean it cannot be managed.
Although I am good at managing my CRPS now, self-consciousness about it is still something I struggle with. Even though it is a invisible disorder, I face a daily struggle of thinking everyone is staring at me because of it. This was made worse during my physical physio sessions when I really did have people staring at me because I was crying in pain. The more it happened the more uncomfortable I became in the gym, to the point where I didn’t step foot into a gym between stopping my physical physio and starting with the personal trainer, which is roughly about 4 years.
I was frightened about going back into the gym bit there are many differences between the two experiences. Firstly, in the new gym it is just the personal trainer and myself, which means I don’t need to worry about anyone “staring” because there is no one to stare. Secondly, now I am not trying to break a loop, I am trying to better myself as well as I can so if I do struggle with something, I can stop and try again at a later date and it doesn’t matter. Lastly, compared with 4 years ago I am able to deal and understand my pain a lot better, which means overall I can enjoy the experience more as the pain is not as bad.
Four years ago I never thought I would walk out of a gym, feeling good about myself again, but I do now and it gets better each time even if the hamstring pain gets worse!
1st August 2017
Well they say that things come in threes! Today it was the day for physio and I honestly do not know how I walked today because between the run and gym the last two days my leg muscles are screaming everytime I walk. My physio sessions are my time to show off any improvement I’ve made within a few weeks, no matter how small or silly it might seem to others (yes, I did actually jump up and down for joy the day I told my physio I could walk down the stairs normally again!) I’ve been seeing Richmond for 4 years now, but I continue to go because each time I do go I learn more about my disorder and how to manage it. The sessions also give me confidence to try things that I find difficult or painful again for example an exercise I had to stop doing last night at gym because my knee did not like the movement.
When I was doing the kettle bell swings last night, my knee felt like it was grinding together. So when the personal trainer commented on how well the knee was dealing with the movement I quickly replied “No it isn’t!” It frustrates me when I come across something that is difficult because I know there is nothing wrong with my knee but the pain is still real. I talk it through with Richmond and we come up with a few methods to help lessen the threat of the exercise, which means hopefully I should be able to carry out a kettle bell swing in a few weeks!
5th August 2017
So today rather than being physical myself, my family and I travelled up to London to watch the World Athletics Championships. It was amazing being back there again after the hype of 2012! We were lucky enough to see both Katarina Johnson-Thompson (my favourite athlete!!) and also Mr Usain Bolt himself! We had different seats for the morning and evening sessions however that did not seem to matter because where ever we were Katarina was near us, which made me extremely happy!
Watching her high jump was hard as her clear upset at coming out of her main event so early was obvious but that did not stop her. Watching her then win her 200m race was incredible and relatable. Anyone with chronic pain will know what it is like to face defeat in things that we were once good at but just because you’ve been defeated that day does not mean you’ll face that same defeat again the next day. Dealing with chronic pain daily could make it so easy to give up but if you do not pick yourself up and try again you will never know if you can do it again. You may be defeated once or 10 times but to show the strength to carry on that will show everyone that you will never be completely defeated by chronic pain.
I had to do this myself today when my pain dramatically increased while sitting in the seats. Big events like that is something I often struggle with now due to the small amount of room around the seats and the uncomfortableness of the seats but what also did not help today was the sun shining that was beaming down on my knee making it warm up and become sensitive.
I am used to the staring, slow walking and general irritance of my condition however I still worry about it affecting my family. I know my family love me no matter what but I am sure they still have the thoughts of “Oh for goodness sake, not again” when they have to deal with me like that. My mum having to help me to the bathroom. My brother having to let me grip onto his shoulders so that I can get up the stairs. My dad having to act as my crutch on the way to the car.
People often say to me “how can you keep going through the pain” but I think that is obvious isn’t it? If my family can deal with me like that, surely the least the deserve is for me to try. I have previously said before that the one piece of advice I would give to a new CRPS sufferer is that even if you feel you cannot try for yourself, try for your family because they will find it as hard as you are, if not harder! This advice is still valid to this day and is what I will live by for the rest of my life.
7th August 2017
So after the pain of Saturday and working on my feet all day yesterday, it was no surprise that I was still suffering with some pain throughout today. It was mainly within the top of my back and in my ankle, which makes walking and just general
movement of my upper body difficult. Luckily I work in an office on a Monday, so my work was not affected but I wanted to go for a run.
I went back and forth as to whether I should go or not because of the pain as the last thing I wanted was to make the pain last another day bur I got home with the thought of all I can do is try, whether I do 30 seconds or 30 minutes that was going to be my best because I was still trying! Well I went out and carried on running until I felt I couldn’t run any further.
I ran 1.1 miles, which when thinking about my half marathon in 2 months, isn’t much but it showed me I could run through the pain as due to being distracted, the pain after the run was not as bad as before my run! Although a small run, for me tonight was a big achievement which makes me more determined and excited for October!
10th August 2017
So Thursday’s are my day for my weekly personal training session. I was slightly nervous it may not go too well as ironically my personally trainer had a knee surgery on his left knee last week, which meant he was bandaged up and limping. Your probably thinking “Well why would that bother you?” but a complication of my disorder is that it has an over protection trait towards the left hand side of my body. This means if my brain perceives a left knee to be indanger, it will give me pain in my left knee because it wants me to stop what I am doing because I am “in danger”. The left knee that is in danger does not have to be my own, which means if I see someone with injuries to their left leg, my brain will take that as a danger and so I receive pain myself!
So when i saw the huge bandage on my personal trainers left leg, I spent the first 10 minutes avoiding any eye contact with anywhere to do with his leg. However I was slightly surprised when I did not feel anything at all when I walked in and originally saw his leg. This is a first for me, so I carried on!
The session was hard, but in a good way! It was mainly about building up the core muscles and my cardio fitness. He worked me hard but I kept up with everything I told him to do, which impressed us both! I am so glad I have started going back to the gym because it makes me feel so good when I can see the results each week!
Read here >> Ellen’s Running Diary Part 2
Read here >> Ellen’s final blog before the 1/2
And what happened on the day? Read here >> THE DAY